Mediterranean crisis: UN points to 50-fold increase in deaths amid European government inaction

  • As many as 900 feared dead so far this year, according to UN Refugee Agency
  • Almost 10,000 rescued since the weekend, according to Italian coastguard
  • European governments have failed to address the humanitarian crisis
  • New Amnesty International report due out later this month

European governments’ ongoing negligence towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has contributed to a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since the beginning of 2015, Amnesty International said today amid fears that as many as 400 more have died amid rescue missions off the coast of Libya in recent days.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today said it was “deeply shocked” that this latest tragedy could bring the death toll to almost 900 people since 1 January 2015, compared to 17 during the same period in 2014. This is almost 53 times as many migrant and refugee deaths.

On 28 April, Amnesty International will launch a new report which offers an in-depth analysis of the current crisis and includes direct testimonies of survivors of shipwrecks during the first three months of 2015. It details how current search-and-rescue operations are a far cry from what is needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean.

How many more people have to die before European governments acknowledge that relying on a patchwork quilt of resources for search-and-rescue operations is not enough?
Gauri Van Gulik, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International

“How many more people have to die before European governments acknowledge that relying on a patchwork quilt of resources for search-and-rescue operations is not enough?” said Gauri Van Gulik, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“Thousands of desperate migrants and refugees continue to make the world’s most dangerous sea crossing, and hundreds have already died this year – a massive increase over the same period in 2014.”

All indications point to a continued rise in the number of migrants and refugees making this trip as the weather improves, violence and persecution continue in countries like Syria and Eritrea, and instability persists in Libya, the launching point for the majority of the people-smuggling voyages across the Mediterranean.

In the latest string of tragedies, the Italian coastguard told Amnesty International it had rescued a total of almost 10,000 people when it responded to dozens of separate SOS calls since Saturday 11 April. On Sunday 12 April, the Italian coast guard retrieved nine corpses from one wooden boat which had capsized, and search efforts are ongoing as hundreds more from that boat are feared missing.

As in other recent search-and-rescue operations, the Italian coastguard had to rely on ad hoc assistance from a combination of the European Union’s “Triton” border-control operation and any nearby merchant vessels.

“Europe has scaled back search-and-rescue capacity based on the flawed argument that such operations were acting as a ‘pull factor’, attracting more migrants. But the reality in the Mediterranean is exposing that fallacy, since the numbers of desperate people seeking to make it to Europe are only going up,” said Gauri Van Gulik.

Leaders in London, Paris, Berlin and other European capitals must admit that the current strategy isn’t working and throw their full weight behind a robust and concerted humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean, with at least the same resources as the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which was shut down last year.
Gauri Van Gulik

“Leaders in London, Paris, Berlin and other European capitals must admit that the current strategy isn’t working and throw their full weight behind a robust and concerted humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean, with at least the same resources as the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which was shut down last year.”